University faculty call on DeSantis to call off in-person classes this fall

In normal times, heading back to campus could cause the jitters, but this year some who teach on Florida campuses are filled with fear.

“Most faculty, most graduate students do not want to come back,” says Elizabeth Kiebel, a graduate assistant who teaches psychology classes at the University of South Florida. “We’re all very anxious, very afraid for our lives, and concerned what might happen to us financially if we become ill as well.”

In a Zoom press conference Monday, a union representing thousands of university faculty called on Governor Ron DeSantis to postpone in-person classes and reopen with remote learning only. The graduate assistant union made a similar request.

“I would urge him to put university campuses completely on-line right now,” says Kiebel. “I don’t think it’s safe for students to come back.”

The governor didn’t address the issue directly at an appearance in Central Florida Tuesday. He did say public school districts should act according to how the pandemic is affecting their area.

Each of Florida’s 12 public universities has their own plan. All have combinations of on-line and in-person classes.

At USF, 59% of classes will have some in-person meetings, including the psychology classes that Kiebel will teach.

“I think the mood in my classroom is going to be terrible,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a terrible environment for learning because we’re all going to be afraid.”

She fears psychology class will take a back seat for students.

“That’s not what’s going to be on the forefront on their minds when they’re sitting there wondering why that person sneezed or coughed.”

And with many older faculty members in high-risk categories, some believe reopening campuses could create a new hotbed for COVID-19.